The American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) announced its support of President Barack Obama’s health care reform priorities outlined in his Feb. 26 budget blueprint, specifically his promises to double funds for cancer research and close loopholes it believes are weakening the Medicare program.

Remarkable breakthroughs in cancer research and medical technology continue to make radiation therapy an effective, less-invasive cancer treatment option. Because radiation therapy is not invasive and has relatively minimal side effects, patients receiving radiation therapy often can maintain normal family lifestyles and continue to work.

“The economic downturn and a strained health care system are forcing an increasing number of cancer patients, both insured and uninsured, to make heartbreaking decisions to delay or forgo necessary radiation treatments,” ASTRO said in its statement. “Radiation oncologists are deeply troubled by this dire situation facing their patients and are committed to help move forward needed health care reform.”

ASTRO said loopholes in the Stark Law, or the physician self-referral law, are compromising the integrity of the Medicare program and quality patient care. The organization refers to one particular loophole, called the in-office ancillary exception (IOAE), as the "loophole that has swallowed the rule".

"There is evidence that some physicians are using the ancillary exception to drop ‘turn-key’ radiation therapy services into group practices to maximize profit," said Laura I. Thevenot, ASTRO’s CEO. “We are afraid these arrangements compromise the quality of care, limit access, constrain patient choice from the full range of treatment options and result in overutilization of certain treatments. ASTRO is committed to working with President Obama and Congress to prevent profit-motivated self-referrals and preserve the
independent judgment and choice that patients deserve in making life and death decisions."

If Obama and Congress were to close the IOAE loophole, ASTRO believes the resulting budgetary savings would help advance the president’s health care priorities. Savings may help increase funding for cancer research or expand coverage, ultimately saving lives and stimulating the economy, it said.

“ASTRO strongly supports comprehensive health care reform and looks forward to working with the President and Congress to expand coverage of the uninsured, double funding for life-saving cancer research, and strengthen Medicare by fixing its physician payment system and protecting the program’s integrity,” the organization stated.